As if Disney didn't have its hands in enough pies - now they are doing a magazine for kids, called "Disney Adventures," geared to ages 7 to 14. The January issue is the fourth monthly issue of this full-color digest-size publication that easily fits in a backpack or a jacket pocket. It has 128 pages and sells for $1.95.
I was initially skeptical of any project that pretends to meet the needs of such a wide age span. So when the enthusiastic publisher, Randy Achee, was in town, I asked him.He admitted that they are focusing on the 10- to 12-year-old bracket, "hoping that younger kids can read up to that and that it will still be interesting to 14-year-olds. Our goal is to speak up, not down, to kids, while at the same time acknowledging that kids should be kids."
In answer to another of my questions, Achee said that there is no parallel to something like "Sesame Street," which is strictly educational but done in an entertaining way. The Disney magazine is designed strictly to be entertaining, "and because it is entertaining it gets kids to read."
Achee says that teachers and educators are pleased with the magazine and think that it may help the literacy problem in the country.
"It is not overly commercial, with only 20 percent ads whereas most magazines carry 50 to 60 percent ads."
In each of seven sections, readers will find features and pictorials that keep both fun and information flowing. Street deals with contemporary trends and entertainment, Backpack treats the natural world, ecology and travel, Big Adventure deals with the world of classic high adventure, Cyber covers technology, science and the future, Impulse tells of high-energy activities, from athletics to motor sports, XOXXOX includes games and challenges, and Pocket talks about items of widely varied interest.
In addition, Zip Code is for letters, Disney Beat offers behind-the-scenes news and Passport is the table of contents.
About one-third of the material is comics. Many of the characters and themes are based on Disney's top-rated syndicated TV programs - "Tale Spin," "Duck Tales" and `Chip 'n' Dale's Rescue Rangers."
Achee says that the magazine is based on the success of an Italian publication called Topolino that is keyed to the Disney format and is a phenomenal success, selling over 700,000 copies weekly in Italy alone. Thinking that the same thing should work in the United States, they did some market research that they claim indicated tremendous interest from both kids and their parents.
Achee says, "In spite of such successful magazines as Sports Illustrated, Boys' Life and other specialized publications, there was no broad, general-interest magazine for kids, the way adults have Time and Newsweek.
According to Achee, they chose the theme of adventure, "because kids approach life as an adventure. A day and a month are long periods of time to a kid. We try to be where they are."
Research suggests that kids really like the first few issues, says Achee. Over a million copies are in circulation, easily accessible at 81,000 checkout counters at grocery and convenience stores and drugstores around the country.
It seems top-heavy on comics to me, but since I'm no expert on magazines for kids, I took the December issue home to my 10-year-old son, Spencer, thinking he would make a superb judge, since he's already an avid reader.
He was not fond of the "Tale Spin" comics, but he enjoyed the question and answer article on Alyssa Milano and the other articles, especially the adventure story titled "Underwater Gold."
When I asked him if he would like to receive the magazine regularly, he said, "Oh - I guess so."
"Well, you liked it, didn't you?"
You like some of the stories in Reader's Digest. Is this better or worse than Reader's Digest?
Even if that sounds like faint praise - from a kid that's pretty good!